August 15, 2009

Eleven Year Old Activist Arrested for Civil Disobedience

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 12:15 pm

Last week, nine protesters with Des Moines Catholic Worker were arrested at the Iowa headquarters of Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Among the group was eleven-year-old Frankie Hughes, who spoke out last Thursday at a rally in Washington, DC.

Frankie Hughes: “We wrote a letter to John Forsyth, the CEO, asking him questions about how much money he makes. He did not answer. We refused to leave until our questions were answered, but instead they arrested us. I did this because other people are out there suffering. The only way we can get healthcare for everyone is to get healthcare for everyone.”

(; August 5, 2009)

Ironically, with an estimated 8.1 million children in America living without health insurance (, it seems that doing time in jail may be the quickest avenue for an 11 year old to receive government sponsored health coverage!

~ Jarret S. Lovell

August 13, 2009

Think Before Comparing to Pink: Why Town Hall Hecklers Bear Little Resemblance to Anti-War Group

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 5:41 pm

By now we’ve all seen the footage: Angry citizens at town hall-style meetings heckling, berating, and otherwise shouting-down elected representatives with chants, slogans, and even the ocassional protest sign. Sound familiar? Some commentators think so.

Indeed, in the midst of all of the hullabaloo over whether these outraged citizens represent genuine activists or mere “astro turf” stand-ins, a new debate has emerged. When it comes to an assessment of tactics, are today’s Right-Wing hecklers the victims of an ideological double-standard by the Left? Aren’t these town hall heists by public health care haters comparable to the actions of the very public (and very Left-Wing) anti-war group “CODE PINK?”

It’s quickly becoming a common comparison. One headline in the blogosphere declares the town hall hecklers the new CODE PINK, while another blogger argues that today’s tactics are the same with one important difference: These heckles are relevant; CODE PINK’S were not.

As an advocate of a public health care system – indeed as someone who supports a single-payer system rather than the piecemeal approach adopted by the Obama Administration – I am certainly annoyed by the tactics adopted by some segments (admittedly small and non-representative segments) of the political Right. At the same time, I cannot help but wonder if I – someone who has attended many a CODE PINK rally – am not myself guilty of the activist double standard. After a bit of reflection, I’ve decided that I am not. Upon close inspection, the tactics of the town hall hecklers bear little resemblance to those employed by CODE PINK. Here’s why.

To be sure, CODE PINK FOR PEACE is a feminst, anti-war group that emerged in the lead-up to the war in Iraq when the Bush Administration (and yes – the Democrats) were scaring the nation into war using an incomprehensible color-coded terror risk chart and tales of imminent mushroom clouds. Among their protest tactics of choice was the disruption of Congressional hearings investigating such issues as “surge” troop levels, the definition of torture, and the policies of the Department of Justice. CODE PINKERS would unfurl a banner from the visitor’s section, remove jackets and sweaters to reveal sloganed t-shirts, and yes – they would often shout anti-war sentiments at the politicians before them.

So where’s the difference?

Let’s begin with context. The intent of the town hall meeting is to brainstorm ideas. It is not a forum where policy is made and decided; rather it is the arena that most closely resembles the marketplace of ideas. Granted, during election years our political leadership has made a mockery of the town hall with their hand-picked auidences and scripted spontaneity, but suffice it to say that what we are witnessing with the health hall meetings is closer in design to the traditional model. Conversely, congressional meeting rooms are the locus of policy formation. They represent the site where federal (and sometimes international) practice is set into motion. Quite simply: to heckle at a town hall is to stiffle speech; to heckle in congress is to stiffle action. The great historian of people power Howard Zinn reminds us never to stiffle speech, for it is only through exposure to speech that we can discover which actions to take.

Next on our list of differences is access. To a large extent, the town hall meeting is open to the public (seating permitted), and virtually any member of the public is welcome to attend and speak her voice. Contrast this with congressional hearings where the cards are largely stacked in favor of a specific position. For example, previous hearings into surge troop levels failed to give a seat at the table to anyone actually opposed to the war. When CODE PINK heckles, it is because anti-war groups have repeatedly been denied access to hearing rooms, to the roundtable discussions on Sunday morning televised talk shows, and even from Presidential debates (just ask Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, Republican Party candidate Ron Paul, or Independent Ralph Nader.) A crash course in activism reminds us that protest should always be a last resort after access to legitimate means of persuasion have failed. Yet cable news and AM radio is currently stacked with conservative voices decrying the public health care proposal. There is simply no justification for the health care hecklers at this stage of the game which points out the now obvious difference of tactics in terms of timing.

Finally, as much as we may want to focus on tactics alone and avoid such questions as who’s really behind the hecklers – by now enough has been reported about the fact that the health insurance industry and health care lobbyists have been sending representatives as “citizens” to heckle leadership. Certainly constituents from within the health care industry have a right to free speech, but are they not misrepresenting themselves as everyday concerned citizens when they take to the mic and decry the emerging socialism before us? Contrast this with the membership of CODE PINK: activists who comprise the non-profit, NGO sector of America who are fighting not to save money for stock shareholders, but instead to save the lives of U.S. Soldiers and Iraqi and Afghan civilians.

When everything is said and done, and when examined closely, the fact remains that while the town hall hecklers are certainly colorful characters, one color they are not is PINK.

Jarret S. Lovell

July 27, 2009

After Occupying Lot for 6 Hours, 9 Advocates for the Homeless Arrested

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 2:30 pm

Nine people were arrested this afternoon by the New York Police Department after occupying a vacant lot for over six hours to press their demand that the city use vacant property to house the homeless.

The protestors want the city to help turn so-called warehoused property into livable homes for low-income and homeless New Yorkers. A survey conducted in 2006 by the advocacy group Picture the Homeless found that 24,000 potential apartments could come out of warehoused property, enough to house the city’s homeless population.

This morning, blue tents were erected on a vacant lot at 115th St. between Madison and Fifth Avenues to create makeshift dwellings for the homeless, as dozens of housing advocates created an festive atmosphere with food, music, art and defiant chants.

“They say gentrify, we say occupy,” the crowd shouted.

Lorenzo Diggs, a member of the Housing Not Warehousing Coalition, led the crowd with a chant of “we are United States citizens, our taxes are our rent, to get off the streets, we’ll fill these lots with tents.”

The action was organized by Picture the Homeless and the Housing Not Warehousing Coalition. A similar protest outside a vacant building in East Harlem was held last March.

“We’re liberating this space for our communities,” thundered Picture the Homeless’ Rob Robinson during a press conference in the afternoon. Robinson was one of those arrested.

At the protest’s peak, an estimated 100 people occupied the vacant lot. Groups on hand to show solidarity included Domestic Workers United and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

Picture the Homeless organizer Frank Morales, who was also arrested, said that this particular spot was chosen because JP Morgan Chase, a bank that the federal government bailed out with $25 billion late last year, is involved with the property. JP Morgan Chase is listed as one of two “parties” to the property by the New York City Department of Finance’s City Register, along with Caparra La Nueva Associates, L.P. The bank, which recently posted over $2 billion in profits, paid back the bailout money in June.

“The government and banks have failed miserably. Homeless people know what the problems are, and we have ideas for the solutions. Since they won’t listen, the time is now for people to take action,” said Picture the Homeless member Sophia Bryant. “We’re going to hold this and defend this as long as possible.”

A “homeless fashion show” was held earlier in the afternoon before the arrests were made.

The police seemed to know of the action in advance, as around 10 stood at the Union Square meeting place, one of two, and followed activists onto the subway. More than two dozen officers were on hand at the protest site. At around 5:30 p.m., officers moved in on the occupied lot and made the arrests, according to Tej Nagaraja, Picture the Homeless’ press person.

As housing activists awaited imminent arrest, supporters were rallying and chanting outside the warehoused lot on a sidewalk.

“It is manifestly unjust that trillions of dollars are being handed to banks such as Chase while funds are drying up for affordable housing,” said Nathan Nessen, executive director for Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

Councilmembers Tony Avella and Melissa Mark-Viverito are drafting legislation that would target warehoused property to convert units into housing for low-income and homeless people. (To read more about warehousing and the legislation, see “Unlocking the Apartment ‘Warehouse’“).

“I can imagine the frustration by Picture the Homeless and other housing groups throughout the entire city that we’re allowing the real estate industry to control the agenda, to warehouse whether it’s vacant properties or legitimate habitable apartments, all for the sake of greed,” said Avella, a mayoral candidate. “Meanwhile, people are going homeless, people can’t afford their rent, so people are going to start taking action into their own hands, and I can’t blame them.”

(Source: NYC Indymedia)

July 24, 2009

Animal Rights Activists Protest Elephant Abuse At Circus

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 11:47 am

ANAHEIM – Animal-rights activists protested outside the circus at the Honda Center again Thursday, this time armed with a newly released video that they say proves the circus abuses animals.

Officials with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have released a four-minute video they say was filmed covertly behind the scenes at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey performances at Madison Square Garden earlier this year and shows that the circus routinely intimidates and whips its animals to make them perform. (To view the video, click here.)

The video was released in a national news conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

About 25 Orange County protesters marched outside the Honda Center on Thursday as guests arrived for the afternoon performance of Ringling Bros. “Zing Zang Zoom,” which runs at the arena through Sunday before moving to Ontario.

Protesters held a large sign that read, “Circus Animals Are Enslaved Just for Entertainment. It’s Not Right.”

One PETA member carried a laptop computer and asked people coming to the circus if they wanted to view the video.

It shows:

•Elephant handlers using so-called “bull hooks” – a 2-foot-long rod with a curved metal hook at the top – to strike elephants on the ears and trunk.

•Elephants reacting to yanks behind the legs with loud sounds that activists say are clear indications they are in pain.

•An elephant named Tonka swaying back in forth as it waits to enter the circus arena, exhibiting signs typical of an elephant under “sever psychological distress,” says a PETA news release.

“This video again shows what we have been saying for years: These animals are routinely abused to perform in ways that they don’t naturally perform,” said Kristie Phelps, a PETA spokeswoman who came from Oakland for the protest.

Ringling Bros. representatives on site said they were not authorized to comment on the video, but they release an official statement from the circus giant. It said, in part: “It is no surprise that PETA would once again release misinformation. … Ringling Bros. is carefully reviewing the recent video produced and distributed by PETA and believes that (it) is questionable in its context regarding the portrayal of the animal handlers.

“Ringling Bros. is proud of its efforts to care for and increase the population of the endangered Asian elephant and we encourage people to come see for themselves that the animals are thriving in our care.”

The circus travels in two separate units – one performing on the East Coast as the other is in the West – and the unit in question was found to be in compliance with federal, state and local regulations during the time in question, circus officials went on to say.

Protesters said the video speaks for itself.

“We hope that people will at least go home and look it up for themselves before thinking about coming back to the circus,” said Charlotte Cressey, 25, of Costa Mesa, a director with Orange County People for Animals.

“The question I ask moms coming to the circus is, ‘Would you want your children treated like these elephants are?’ ”

July 14, 2009

Game On For Christian Protest

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 9:49 pm

MELBOURNE, Australia – Baptist minister Simon Moyle and friends have gone to Queensland to play hide and seek. It is a long way to go for a simple game, but this one is serious, and is almost certain to end with Mr Moyle in court – again.

Bonhoeffer Four: Margaret Pestorius and Jarrod McKenna (back), with Simon Moyle and Jessica Morrison. Photo: Julian MastersThe quartet of Christians plan to hide in the 30,000 square kilometres of the Shoalwater Bay military training area near Rockhampton to disrupt joint exercises by the Australian and US armies, navies and air forces, involving about 24,000 troops.

The exercises, code named Talisman Sabre, feature simulated city fighting in the Middle East.

In the early hours of this morning, the group, calling themselves the Bonhoeffer Four, stole onto the base, knowing that the exercise cannot go ahead while they are loose. They are aligned with a larger Christian group, the Martin Luther King Junior House Church, which is loosely connected with the wider Peace Convergence protest.

The group’s namesake, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was a great German theologian who was hanged in 1945 for supporting a plot to assassinate Hitler. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd identified Bonhoeffer as his inspiration in a major essay in The Monthly in 2006.

“Our faith is calling us to this,” Mr Moyle said. “We have committed our lives to taking seriously Jesus’ call not just to be peace lovers but peace makers, and to love our enemies.”

He said he didn’t know how many groups would try to hide. They had to signal that they were there, with balloons and beacons, which made it harder, but their hiding spot is the size of Belgium.

If caught, they will face court. Disrupting the 2007 exercises cost Mr Moyle a six-month good behaviour bond.

“The military are doing invasion training. They have built a model city inside the base with a mosque in the middle, which the Australians are defending against the Americans,” he said.

The Bonhoeffer Four comprises Mr Moyle, Margaret Pestorius, Jessica Morrison, and Jarrod McKenna.

Mr Moyle’s Brunswick church, Inspiral, will hold a vigil tonight in Federation Square.

Yesterday the ABC reported that a Sydney chaplain, Frank Vavasour, was briefly detained and later released without charge, after trying to climb the fence of the Rockhampton military barracks.

Mr Vavasour is a member of the Catholic group Pax Christi.

(Source: The Age/Australia; July 13, 2009)

July 13, 2009

Corporate Media Censors Debate & Dissent

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 11:10 am

Josh Richman
July 8, 2009
Oakland Tribune

Most Bay Area television stations rejected or apparently ignored a new advertisement urging Californians to reconsider legalizing and taxing marijuana as a way to help close the state’s gaping budget deficit, the ad’s sponsors say.

Marijuana Policy Project communications director Bruce Mirken said NBC affiliate KTVU and ABC affiliate KGO rejected the ad, while CBS affiliate KPIX and Fox affiliate KTVU “never got back to us with rate cards.” The ad will begin airing today on KRON, on stations in Sacramento and Los Angeles, and statewide on cable news channels CNN, Headline News, MSNBC and CNBC.

Mirken said KNTV offered no explanation beyond an e-mail stating, “Standards rejected the spot.” KNTV president and general manager Rich Cerussi confirmed his station rejected the ad, but wouldn’t comment as to why.

KGO had said it was “not comfortable” with the ad, Mirken said; calls and e-mails to that station weren’t returned Tuesday.

“We are appalled. This is a debate that the governor of California has said our state should have,” Mirken said Tuesday, noting the ad doesn’t promote smoking marijuana or any other illegal act.

“It’s just mind-boggling that TV stations would refuse to let this absolutely legitimate public policy debate be on their airwaves. How can we have democracy if we can’t have open debate?”

The Field Poll in April found 56 percent of California voters favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use and taxing its proceeds. Days later, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said “it’s time for a debate” over this, and urged a study including international comparisons to examine impacts of such a policy.

The 30-second ad notes huge cuts to schools, health care, police and state parks are in the offing due to the state’s budget crisis.

“Instead of being treated like criminals for using a substance safer than alcohol, we want to pay our fair share,” a spokeswoman says in the ad. “Taxes from California’s marijuana industry could pay the salaries of 20,000 teachers. Isn’t it time?”

July 10, 2009

Greenpeace Activists Demand Action on Global Warming

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 9:54 pm

Greenpeace activists occupied four coal-fired power stations around Italy on Thursday for a second day as world leaders met for the G8 summit. The activists broke into the plants in the early hours of the morning to demand G8 heads of state take leadership on climate change. Meanwhile, on Wednesday Greenpeace activists scaled the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota and hung a banner calling on President Obama to take action on global warming. The activists hung the banner next to the carved mountain face of Abraham Lincoln. The banner reads: “America honors leaders not politicians: Stop Global Warming.” The group of eleven Greenpeace activists who hung the banner were later arrested.

Dispute Over Flag Protest Erupts in Wisconsin Village

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 9:49 pm

By ROBERT IMRIE, Associated Press Writer Robert Imrie, Associated Press Writer –

WAUSAU, Wis. – An American flag flown upside down as a protest in a northern Wisconsin village was seized by police before a Fourth of July parade and the businessman who flew it — an Iraq war veteran — claims the officers trespassed and stole his property. A day after the parade, police returned the flag and the man’s protest — over a liquor license — continued.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is considering legal action against the village of Crivitz for violating Vito Congine Jr.’s’ First Amendment rights, Executive Director Chris Ahmuty said.

“It is not often that you see something this blatant,” Ahmuty said.

In mid-June, Congine, 46, began flying the flag upside down — an accepted way to signal distress — outside the restaurant he wants to open in Crivitz, a village of about 1,000 people some 65 miles north of Green Bay.

He said his distress is likely bankruptcy because the village board refused to grant him a liquor license after he spent nearly $200,000 to buy and remodel a downtown building for an Italian supper club.

Congine’s upside-down-flag represents distress to him; to others in town, it represents disrespect of the flag.

Hours before a Fourth of July parade, four police officers went to Congine’s property and removed the flag under the advice of Marinette County District Attorney Allen Brey.

Neighbor Steven Klein watched in disbelief.

“I said, ‘What are you doing?’ Klein said. “They said, ‘It is none of your business.'”

The next day, police returned the flag.

Brey declined comment Friday.

Marinette County Sheriff Jim Kanikula said it was not illegal to fly the flag upside down but people were upset and it was the Fourth of July.

“It is illegal to cause a disruption,” he said.

The parade went on without any problems, Kanikula said.

Village President John Deschane, 60, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, said many people in town believe it’s disrespectful to fly the flag upside down.

“If he wants to protest, let him protest but find a different way to do it,” Deschane said.

Congine, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq in 2004, said he intends to keep flying the flag upside down.

“It is pretty bad when I go and fight a tyrannical government somewhere else,” Congine said, “and then I come home to find it right here at my front door.”

July 6, 2009

About the Cover

Filed under: Crimes of Dissent — Editor @ 11:00 am

Civil disobedience outside the LAPD’s Rampart Division station house during the Democratic National Convention in 2000. Photo by Peter Holderness.

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